Talal Al-Zahrani (left) and his son Yasser Al-Zahrani (right), who died at Guantanamo in 2006
May 16, 2014
Yasser Al-Zahrani was twenty-one years-old when he died at Guantanamo Bay. The US military claims he, along with two other prisoners, committed suicide in their cells. However, a new document uncovered by journalist Scott Horton and published by Harper’s Magazine strongly suggests that they were killed at a CIA black site prison.
The Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) investigated the deaths of Al-Zahrani, Ali Abdulla Ahmed, and Mana Shaman Allabard al Tabi. They concluded that they had died on June 10, 2006, after taking their own lives by making a rope out of bed sheets and T-shirts and hanging themselves.
Both Ahmed and Allabard were allegedly declared to be dead immediately when their bodies were discovered. Al-Zahrani, on the other hand, was transported to the Naval Hospital at Guantanamo and then pronounced dead later.
Horton uncovered a document, Exhibit 25, which was missing from the NCIS report on the "suicides" released in response to a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. It features statements from Master-at-Arms Denny, a member of the escort team who helped transfer the three detainees to the hospital.
As Horton writes, "Some time after midnight on June 10, Denny and another member of the escort team were instructed to transport a detainee suffering 'life threatening symptoms,’ from a cell block in Camp I to the camp’s clinic. When Denny’s team arrived at the entrance to Camp I, they were informed that the detainee had already been moved to the clinic, a highly unusual violation of standard operating procedure."
"For this reason, I had a feeling something was wrong," the master-at-arms declared.
Al-Zahrani was handcuffed when the master-at-arms first saw him. He was lying on a stretcher. His feet were blue and he was limp. But, later, a soldier wrapped "'an altered detainee sheet, that looked like the same material [Al-Zahrani] used to hang himself’ around the detainee’s right wrist."
The Combat Camera team attempted to document the scene, which is standard operating procedure, but Colonel Michael Bumgarner apparently ordered them to stop filming.
When EMTs arrived, they began to do chest compressions because, according to the master-at-arms, "medical was not doing it."
The master-at-arms was ordered to "accompany Al-Zahrani to the hospital." As Horton describes based off details in the document:
…He climbed into the back of the ambulance with the patient and the EMTs, who resumed the chest compressions. At that time, Denny stated, the monitor showed Al-Zahrani’s heart beating; he also noted that the cloth Al-Zahrani allegedly used to hang himself was still wrapped tightly around the patient’s neck. The application of CPR, and the cloth still in place, while the patient’s neck was 'swollen, puffy’ and 'a purple color’ is not only an unlikely resuscitation method but might have done Al-Zahrani further harm…
Tower guards informed Horton that Al-Zahrani was moved to Camp No on June 9 in the nighttime. Camp No is also known as "Penny Lane."
In November of last year, Adam Goldman and Matt Apuzzo reported for the Associated Press that "Penny Lane" was a facility used by the CIA to turn detainees into double agents before they were sent home. This program ended in 2006, perhaps not coincidentally after the three detainees died.
Col. Bumgarner told The Charlotte Observer each detainee "had a ball of cloth in their mouth either for choking or muffling their voices," which those investigating the "suicides" have suggested indicates they were victims of "dryboarding."
Dryboarding involves stuffing a cloth in someone’s throat and can induce asphyxiation, as Horton points out. This could’ve been a tactic employed by CIA interrogators in the process of coercing the men into becoming assets. And, if this is what happened, it would help explain not having medical staff immediately try to resuscitate Al-Zindrani.
There does appear to have been a coverup because master-at-arms account was part of the NCIS report, however, according to Horton, in the version released to the public, "duplicates of other pages from the report were renumbered to stand in their place."
The Center for Constitutional Rights (CCR), which has brought a lawsuit on behalf of the families of two of the detainees who died, reacted to the eyewitness account in this document.
"There has never been an impartial and effective investigation into the deaths, and the heavily-redacted version of the military investigation the government was compelled to release is riddled with inexplicable gaps and inconsistencies. One of those gaps was the document published today by Harper’s, which was apparently deliberately removed from the military’s public report," CCR stated.
The families’ lawsuit was dismissed. The district and circuit courts in DC decided, even "if federal officials had been involved in the homicides" it was not their role to challenge the executive branch’s effort to protect "national security" and grant any kind of a remedy. Also, if the agents or officers had some role in killing them, it was "within the scope of their employment."
When Horton first reported on a Camp Delta sergeant who raised doubts about whether the deaths were "suicides," Al-Zindrani’s father issued a statement.
"Mr. President, the killing of my son at the hands of his guards and under the supervision of the administration of the detention center is a serious and gruesome crime. It is against all human values and ideals, and whoever covers up this gruesome crime or obstructs the criminal and judicial investigations is a co-conspirator with those who have committed the crime itself."
To the judicial authorities, he had the following question: "Why do you refuse to look into these flagrant violations of human rights, even though you hear cases and convict people who commit crimes against animals? Do you really believe that only Americans or Westerners are worthy of being considered human beings with rights?"
He had a message for the American people too: "I would like to tell you that the reason negative feelings towards America continue to exist is because your government is disregarding people’s feelings and showing contempt and disrespect for the lives of others."
CCR is currently trying to convince the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights to hear the families’ case and investigate alleged violations of international law.